In a saturated Bay Area sports market, it’s easy to overlook the City College of San Francisco football team, despite its successful pedigree.
The offensive line is the easiest aspect of the sport to overlook. Paradoxically, it’s also the most physically imposing. And for the Rams, the player who embodies that phenomenon is Elliot Baker, a 6-foot-7, 305-pound offensive tackle who’s light on his feet and nasty in the trenches.
Baker is the No. 1 overall junior college prospect — across all positions — in the nation, according to 24/7 Sports.
After winning the 2015 National Championship under CCSF head coach Jimmy Collins, Baker is headed to the University of Alabama next fall to play for coaching legend Nick Saban.
So how did so many teams whiff on such a huge talent in his first round of recruitment?
Big kid, lack of focus
Elliot Baker went to high school at Archbishop Riordan, across the street from CCSF.
While playing prep football, his team simply didn’t win, taking just six games — zero in league — during his two years on varsity. Apathy set in, and Baker began to feel like his playing career was over.
“I didn’t work as hard as I could’ve in high school,” Baker admitted. “Getting to the next level requires a lot of work, and I was definitely not working hard enough, and I wasn’t as focused.”
As a result, he left Riordan as a non-qualifier, which means he didn’t meet the NCAA Division I eligibility requirements to play football or accept a scholarship. That fact was largely irrelevant, though, because he hadn’t received any offers, only corresponding with coaches at Sacramento State.
There was seemingly no future in football for Baker. That is, until Rams offensive line coach Eduardo Nuño visited a friend of his, equipment manager and track and field assistant coach Edgar Flores, at Riordan.
“I’m walking through the gym, and they’re having senior pictures and I see that big kid with a No. 76 jersey on,” Nuño said. “I’m like, ‘Holy smokes. Who’s that? How come I haven’t heard of him? Who he is?’ … I don’t think he was really sure about football then because of the bad experience — a crappy, not successful time in high school.”
Nuño convinced Baker to join the team at CCSF, opening his eyes to a program that had processes in place to ensure on-field success.
Why did the OT cross the street?
Baker was practicing with CCSF, but still had growing up to do.
Like most of Collins’ linemen, he grey-shirted his first season, allowing him to keep four full years of eligibility.
During that first year, Baker competed against talented, Division I-bound players in practice. What that means for linemen: a daily ass beating.
“I’m still a young kid at 18, and these guys I’m going against are 20 years old and have offers from everywhere in the country,” he recalled. “That will mature you.”
Baker and Nuño both said he struggled with focus during the semester he sat out, because it was hard to take a physical beating without the release of playing in the game. He ultimately made it through that campaign, watching his teammates win the Northern California Championships.
He was unleashed in the 2015 season and built a national reputation, which led to an intense recruiting period.
“The whole process was a blessing overall,” Baker said. “I never expected to get that much exposure or hype or whatever you wanna call it.”
He got plenty of it, receiving offers from Mississippi State, Oregon, Arizona State, Georgia and others — a far cry from when Sac State was the only team calling him.
Watching his highlight tape from the 2015 season, it’s clear why so many coaches worked to add Baker. He’s big, making his junior college opponents — who aren’t small themselves — look like high schoolers. He’s quick, getting off the snap to punish whoever drew the unfortunate task of lining up against him. He’s tenacious, making a hit on the line and then working upfield to take out linebackers in run-blocking situations.
The first question big-time college coaches asked Collins about Baker: “What’s Elliot’s phone number?” the coach said with a laugh.
It’s not easy to find talented offensive linemen, especially with that kind of size. “It’s simple supply-and-demand,” Collins said as to why Baker was so highly sought after.
Ultimately, the team that won four of the last seven NCAA titles, Alabama, earned Baker’s commitment while he was working with the team during a summer camp.
Baker has spent his entire life in The City, but can’t wait to take in a new environment. Tuscaloosa is about as new as it could be, but he predicts that’ll be an overall positive experience.
“I love football, and they love it as much as me,” Baker said. “They’re not off at a professional basketball game or something like that.”
He still needs to develop before he can reasonably presume to be slotted into Saban’s rotation, but when four-year schools recruit juco players, it’s not for them to sit — he’s going to be demanded to produce sooner than later.
So Baker is doing yoga three times a week, looking to add more flexibility and “bend” to his imposing frame, all the while working in the classroom to ensure he’s eligible for his big break.
“I think he realizes what’s at stake, and there’s gotta be some balance,” Nuño said. “But so far, he’s doing real well and did real well in the summer. I think he’s headed in the right direction.”
One thing Baker isn’t doing is looking too far ahead. Making personal goals isn’t his thing, but it’s impossible to ignore Alabama’s history of producing NFL draft picks. Baker admitted that was a draw to the program.
Due to the nature of his position, he’ll likely continue to be overlooked by fans as an individual contributor. But if he plays an important role, Baker will be celebrated as only big-time SEC winners are, which is something he can’t wait to embrace.
“I like to say I’m ready, but I’m probably not ready,” he said. “I’m just going to have to put the blinders on and go to work everyday.”
In the meantime, Elliot Baker will continue to employ a wait-and-see approach. It’s gotten him this far, and for a guy who eschews expectations, where he is and where he’s going seem like pretty nice places.